Contrary to common political rhetoric, immigration does not represent a zero-sum game in which jobs, services, and resources consumed by immigrants result in fewer resources for taxpayers and working-class citizens.
It’s a fact that immigrants open businesses at higher rates than their U.S.-born counterparts do; many bring large amounts of capital to invest in the U.S. and thus employ many citizens. In the U.S., immigrants are almost twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as native-born U.S. citizens. They also represent 27.5% of the countries’ entrepreneurs but only around 13% of the population.
Highly-skilled immigrants provide knowledge and needed technical help and scientific research to various industry sectors. Low-skilled immigrants decrease the prices we pay for many products and services and thus indirectly subsidize the middle-class in many developed nations. As the debate on immigration continues, here are 25 immigrants who have helped make the world great
1. Jawed Karim: Co-founder of Youtube
Country of origin: East Germany
World-changing idea: The world’s largest video streaming platform.
Born in Merseburg, East Germany in 1979, Karim’s father is a Muslim Bangladeshi who worked as a researcher at 3M. His mother was a German scientist of biochemistry at the University of Minnesota. He crossed the old East-West German border with his family in 1981 and grew up in Neuss, West Germany, after which he moved with his family to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1992. While studying at the University of Illinois, Department of Computer Science, he decided to leave before graduation and become an early employee of PayPal.
While working at PayPal, he met Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. The three later founded the YouTube video sharing website in 2005 and YouTube’s first-ever video Me at The Zoo was uploaded by Karim on 23 April 2005.
2. Max Levchin: Cofounder of PayPal
Country of origin: Ukraine
World-changing idea: Easy online
Levchin was born in Kiev in 1975 to a Ukrainian Jewish family. In 1991 he moved to the United States under political asylum and settled in Chicago. In an interview with Emily Chang of Bloomberg, Levchin discussed overcoming adversity as a child. He had respiratory problems and doctors doubted his chances of survival. He survived and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University of Illinois.
In 1998, Levchin and Peter Thiel founded Fieldlink, a security company that allowed
users to store encrypted data on their PalmPilots and other PDA devices for
handheld devices to serve as “digital wallets.” They developed a
popular payment product known as PayPal and focused on the digital transfers of
funds. He was named by the MIT Technology Review as one of the top 100
innovators in the world under the age of 35, and Innovator of the Year.
3. Eduardo Saverin: Facebook Cofounder
Country of origin: Brazil
World-changing idea: Changing social interaction forever
Born to a wealthy Jewish Brazilian family, Saverin settled in Miami with his family in 1993. He attended Harvard University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics. During his junior year at Harvard, Saverin met fellow Harvard undergraduate, Mark Zuckerberg. Noting the lack of a dedicated social networking website for Harvard students, the two worked together to launch The Facebook in 2004.
In 2012, Business Insider obtained and released an exclusive email from
Zuckerberg detailing how he cut Saverin from Facebook and diluted his stake.
After a lawsuit, the company affirmed Saverin’s title as co-founder of
As of 2015, he owns 53 million Facebook shares (approximately 0.4% of all outstanding shares) and has a net worth of $8.7 billion, according to Forbes. He has also invested in early-stage startups such as Qwiki and Jumio.
4. Arianna Huffington: Founder of The Huffington Post
Country of origin: Greece
World-changing idea: Women can become media moguls too
At the age of 16 Huffington moved to the United Kingdom to study economics
at Girton College in Cambridge. Here, she became the first foreign, and third
female President of the Cambridge Union. In 1980 she moved to New York and rose
to national U.S. prominence during the unsuccessful Senate bid in 1994 by her
then-husband, Michael Huffington, a Republican.
The Huffington Post was launched on May 9, 2005, as a commentary outlet, blog and an alternative to news aggregators. It was sold in 2011 to AOL for $315 million. In 2009, Huffington was ranked number 12 in Forbes’s first-ever list of the Most Influential Women In Media and also ranked number 42 in The Guardian’s Top 100 in Media List. As of 2014, she was listed by Forbes as the 52nd Most Powerful Woman in the World.
In 2016, she announced that she was stepping down from her role at The Huffington Post to devote her time to her new startup, Thrive Global, that focuses on health and wellness.
5. Sergey Brin: Co-founder of Google
Country of origin: Russia
World-changing idea: Find what you’re
looking for 24/7
Brin is a computer scientist, internet entrepreneur, and philanthropist who,
together with Larry Page, co-founded Google. He is also the President of
Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc.
As of July 2017, Brin is the 12th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $45 billion.
Brin immigrated to the United States with his family from the Soviet Union
at the age of six. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of
Maryland, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by studying
mathematics, as well as computer science. After graduation, he enrolled in
Stanford University to acquire a Ph.D. in computer science, where he met Page.
They crammed their dormitory room with inexpensive computers and applied Brin’s
data mining system to build a web search engine. The program became popular at
Stanford, and they suspended their Ph.D. studies to start up Google in a rented
6. Lupita Nyong’o: Actress
Country of origin: Mexico
World-changing idea: Kenyan-Mexicans
can conquer Hollywood
Nyong’o is a Mexican-Kenyan actress, born in Mexico to Kenyan parents and
raised in Kenya.
Nyong’o took drama lessons in Mexico as a teenager and starred in the lead
role in a production of Romeo and Juliet. During a school summer vacation, she
returned to Kenya, where she discovered that filming for the drama The Constant
Gardener was happening in her area. She joined the set as a production
assistant and met Ralph Fiennes, who told her to become an actor.
In 2015, Nyong’o returned to Kenya and announced that she would advocate for the preservation of elephants with the international conservation organization WildAid, as well as promote women’s issues. She launched an anti-poaching “hearts and minds” campaign with WildAid in conjunction with Kenya Wildlife Service which resulted in 105 tonnes of Ivory and 1.35 tonnes of rhino horn burnt in a demonstration of zero tolerance towards poachers and smugglers.
7. Florian Picasso: Musician and DJ
Country of origin: Vietnam
World-changing idea: Creative talent can be passed on through adoption
Twenty-nine-year-old Florian Ruiz-Picasso, better known as Florian Picasso,
is a French DJ and record producer who is a great-grandson of the well-known
artist, Pablo Picasso. He was born in Vietnam and adopted by Marina Picasso,
the granddaughter of Pablo Picasso.
He has gained recognition for collaborations with 20-year-old Dutch DJ
superstar Martin Garrix and Steve Aoki, the highest grossing dance artist in
the US. In 2016, Florian was ranked by DJ Mag at 38th on their annual list of
Top 100 DJs in the world.
He started making music at the age of 13 when he would perform at events at
his boarding school. He has opened for acts like Swedish House Mafia and
performed at major music festivals, such as Ultra Music Festival and
8. Mila Kunis: Actress
Country of origin: Ukraine
World-changing idea: A cab drivers
daughter can become a celebrity
Milena Markovna “Mila” Kunis moved to Los Angeles from Ukraine in
1991 at the age of seven.
After being enrolled in acting classes as an after-school activity, she was soon discovered by an agent and appeared in several television series and commercials, before acquiring her first significant role before her 15th birthday, playing Jackie Burkhart on the television series That ’70s Show. Since 1999, she has voiced Meg Griffin on the animated series Family Guy.
Her breakout film role came in 2008, playing Rachel in the romantic comedy-drama Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Her other films include the post-apocalyptic action film The Book of Eli (2010), the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits (2011) and the drama Black Swan (2010). This performance gained her worldwide accolades and nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. Kunis is married to actor Ashton Kutcher.
9. Pierre Morad Omidyar: Founder of eBay
Country of origin: France
World-changing idea: An easy way for
anyone to buy and sell online
The French-born Iranian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist founded the
eBay auction site, where he served as chairman from 1998 to 2015.
Born in Paris, he is the son of Iranian immigrant parents who had been sent to France by their parents to attend university. His interest in computers began while he was a ninth-grade student. He graduated from Tufts University in Massachusetts, with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1988 and shortly after, went to work for Claris, an Apple Computer subsidiary.
In 1995, at the age of 28, Omidyar began to write the original computer code for an online location that enabled the listing of a direct person-to-person auction for collectible items. He created a simple prototype on his personal web page, and on Labor Day, he launched an online service called Auction Web, which eventually became the auction site eBay.
In 1998, eBay launched a successful public offering, making Omidyar a
10. Mo Farah: Athlete
Country of origin: Somalia
World-changing idea: A Somalian can
become the fastest person in England
Sir Mohamed Muktar Jama “Mo” Farah is a British distance runner,
originally from Somalia.
Moving to the UK as a child, Farah went on to become the European record
holder for the 1,500 meters, 10,000 meters and half marathon. He also holds the
British title for the 5,000 meters, the European indoor 5,000 meters and the
current indoor world record holder for the two-mile race.
He is the most decorated athlete in British athletics history, with nine
global titles, and was the first British athlete to win two gold medals at the
same world championships. His five gold medals at the European Athletics
Championships make him the most successful individual athlete in championships
Farah is involved in various philanthropic initiatives, launching the Mo
Farah Foundation after a trip home to Somalia in 2011.
11. Tan Le: Co-founder of Emotiv
Country of Origin: Vietnam
World-changing idea: The first
wearable tech that monitors your brain
Born in South Vietnam, Le migrated to Australia as a refugee with her family
in 1982. She began university studies at the age of 16 and completed a
bachelor’s degree in law and commerce at Monash University.
Her first venture was SASme, a pioneer in providing SMPP platforms to
telecommunication carriers and content aggregators, that became one of the
companies responsible for the creation of Australia’s SMS application market.
She co-founded software company Emotiv which specializes in
electroencephalography (EEG) headsets. Emotiv is the pioneer of simple to use,
high quality, mobile headsets that do advanced brain monitoring. In 1998, she
was named Young Australian of the Year and voted one of Australia’s 30 Most
Successful Women Under 30.
She has been appointed Special Ambassador to the United Kingdom, a Goodwill
Ambassador for Australia in Asia, and a Patron of the Australian Youth
Ambassadors for Development Program.
12. Shubhankar Ray: Former Global Brand Director, G-Star
Country of Origin: India
World-changing idea: Cool and engaging fashion campaigns
Shubhankar Ray is the former global brand director of Amsterdam-based denim
label G-Star. Born in Calcutta, India, in 1968, Ray moved to Manchester, England,
where he studied chemistry before moving into fashion branding. Ray began his
career reinventing global fashion and lifestyle brands. He is mostly known for
the innovative and award-winning global campaigns and brand images he created
for Caterpillar in the 90s, Camper in the 00s and G-Star since 2006, as their
Global Brand Director.
For G-Star, he pioneered groundbreaking marketing ideas, such as a record
label, virtual nightclub-museum, pop-up gallery, infotainment fashion shows and
the world’s first denim made from recycled ocean plastic. His work is based on
global branding, consumer-social reality and designing multi-level
13. Rita Ora: Singer, Actress and Fashion Designer
Country of origin: Yugoslavia
World-changing idea: A record-breaking number of chart-topping singles
The British singer, fashion designer and actress rose to prominence in February 2012 when she was featured on DJ Fresh’s single, Hot Right Now, which reached number one in the UK.
She was born in Pristina, SFR Yugoslavia (present-day Kosovo) to Albanian
parents. Ora speaks Albanian, her mother is Catholic and her father is Muslim.
Her family left Kosovo for political reasons, due to the persecution of ethnic
Albanians that began with the disintegration of Yugoslavia (today’s Kosova)
They relocated to London, England in 1991, when she was one year old.
Ora was the artist with the most number-one singles on the UK Singles Chart in 2012, with three consecutive singles reaching the top position. In 2014, she joined the charity group Band Aid 30 along with other British and Irish pop acts, recording the latest version of the track Do They Know It’s Christmas? to raise money for the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa.
14. Dietrich Mateschitz: Founder of Red Bull
Country of origin: Austria
World-changing idea: A consumer product associated with a “can do” attitude
The billionaire businessman who co-founded the Red Bull energy drink company
has a net worth of an estimated $14.7 billion.
Born in Austria to a family of Croatian ancestry his first job was as an
international marketing director for German company Blendax, where he traveled
the world, living in many countries. It was this exposure to multiple cultures
and local customs that gave him the idea for a new product, Red Bull, now associated
with extreme physical and mental endurance.
He is the co-founder of the Wings for Life foundation that supports spinal
cord research together with Heinz Kinigadner. Since 2014 the foundation has
organized the Wings for Life World Run to raise funds.
15. Jung Chang: Writer
Country of origin: China
World-changing idea: Narrated the stories of three generations of Chinese women
Jung Chang is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but banned in the People’s Republic of China. Her 832-page biography of Mao Zedong, Mao: The Unknown Story, written with her husband, the Irish historian Jon Halliday, was published in June 2005.
Chang’s parents were both Communist Party of China officials. As a child,
she quickly developed a love of reading and writing, which included composing
poetry. Like many of her peers, Chang chose to become a Red Guard at the age of
14, during the early years of the Cultural Revolution.
She left China in 1978 to study in Britain on a government scholarship and
received her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of York in 1982, becoming the first person from
the People’s Republic of China to be awarded a Ph.D. from a British university.
The publication of Jung Chang’s second book Wild Swans made her a celebrity. Large numbers of sales and the book’s popularity led to its being sold around the world and translated into nearly 40 languages.
16. Friedrich Trump: Donald Trump’s Grandfather
Country of origin: Germany
World-changing idea: One man’s
immigration is another’s struggle
A local council letter from 1905 has been uncovered informing Donald Trump’s
grandfather Friedrich Trump – who had become a United States citizen – that he
would not be granted his German citizenship back and that he had eight weeks to
leave the country or be deported. He also claimed that Trump had illegally left
Germany, failing to notify authorities of his plan to immigrate.
The document on Friedrich Trump’s threatened deportation was found in German
state archives and also found several letters from him pleading with
authorities to allow him to stay. This one administrative decision seems to
have changed the course of history.
In 1885, at age 16, Friedrich Trump emigrated to the United States aboard a
steamship and arrived at the Emigrant Landing Depot in New York City. U.S.
immigration records list his name as “Friedrich Trumpf” and his
occupation as “farmer.” In May 1904, when he applied in New York for
a U.S. passport to travel with his wife and his daughter, he listed his
profession as “hotelkeeper.”
Soon after returning, Bavarian authorities determined that Trump had
emigrated from Germany to avoid his military service obligations, and he was
labeled a draft dodger. On December 24, 1904, the Department of Interior
announced an investigation to expel Trump from the country. Officially, they
found that he had violated the Resolution of the Royal Ministry of the Interior
number 9916, a 1886 law that punished emigration to North America to avoid
military service with the loss of German citizenship. For several months, he
unsuccessfully petitioned the government to allow him to stay.
He and his family finally returned to New York on June 30, 1905, where
Donald Trump’s father, Fred, was born on October 11, 1905, in Queens, New York.
17. Adrienne Clarkson: 26th Governor General of Canada
Country of origin: Hong Kong (China)
World-changing idea: Making citizens feel good about themselves and their country
The 26th Governor General of Canada (1999-2005), Adrienne Clarkson is
universally acknowledged to have transformed the office during her six years at
Rideau Hall and to have left an indelible mark on Canada’s history. Clarkson
came to Canada as a refugee in 1942.
Her tenure as Governor-General was remarkable for the considerable attention
she brought to the courage of Canada’s Armed Forces and increased vigilance to
Canada’s commitment to international peace and security. Her passionate
interest in Canada’s North led her to establish the Governor General’s Northern
Medal, awarded annually to an individual who has contributed outstandingly to
the understanding and development of the North. In particular, her interest in
the Aboriginal peoples was remarkable and has helped push the question of
native peoples in Canada to the forefront of national discussion.
National Post columnist John Fraser once remarked that she “has the ability, unique among public officials, of making Canadians feel good about themselves and their country.” This talent was recognized by the Blood Tribe of Alberta who adopted her as an honorary chief. Clarkson was given the title “Grandmother of Many Nations.”
18. Indra Nooyi: CEO of PepsiCo
World-changing idea: Shape one of the world’s biggest brands
Country of origin: India
Born in Madras, India, the future CEO of PepsiCo grew up conservative and
middle-class, studying physics, chemistry, and math. Her determination to study
in the U.S. brought her to Yale University’s Graduate School of Management in
1978. Despite financial aid from Yale, Nooyi worked nights as a receptionist.
She went in for interviews wearing a sari because she “had no money to buy
She persevered and finished her degree, moving on to the Boston Consulting
Group before joining PepsiCo in 1994. Since then, she has been a significant
part of reshaping the Pepsi brand, overseeing major acquisitions like Quaker
Oats and Tropicana, and becoming CEO in 2001. She moved corporate spending away
from junk foods and into healthier alternatives.
Nooyi has consistently ranked among the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
19. Hamdi Ulukaya: Founder Chobani
Country of origin: Turkey
World-changing idea: An immigrant who makes Americans richer
Ulukaya arrived in the USA with nothing and within 10 years was running a
Yogurt company worth billions. A few years ago he gave 10% of the company to
his employees – worth 100,000’s of dollars for each employee. He also gave
$700m to Syrian refugees.
He is the owner, founder, Chairman, and CEO of Chobani, the number one
selling strained yogurt brand in the United States. In 1994 Ulukaya traveled
from his family dairy farm in a small village in Turkey to America. His
original goal was to study English and take a few business courses. On the
advice of his father, and with his knowledge of dairy, he started a modest
feta-cheese factory in 2002. It was met with moderate success until he decided
to take a significant risk in 2005: the purchase of a large, defunct yogurt
factory in upstate New York.
With no prior experience in the yogurt business, he persevered and created a
yogurt empire valued at over $1 billion in annual sales within the first five
years. It became the leading yogurt brand in America by 2011 and the popularity
of his Greek-style yogurt had the knock-on effect of sparked the rise in Greek
yogurt’s market share – from less than 1% in 2007 to more than 50% in 2013.
20. Zaha Mohammad Hadid: Architect
Country of origin: Iraq
World-changing idea: Redefined the look of global cities
Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid (31 October 1950 – 31 March 2016) was an Iraqi-born
British architect and the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture
Prize in 2004.
Hadid studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before
moving, in 1972, to London to study at the Architectural Association School of
She is best known for liberating architectural geometry through highly
expressive, sweeping fluid forms of multiple perspective points and fragmented
geometry that evoke the chaos and flux of modern life. A pioneer of
parametricism, and an icon of neo-futurism, with a formidable personality, her
acclaimed work and ground-breaking forms include the aquatic center for the
London 2012 Olympics, the Broad Art Museum in the U.S., and the Guangzhou Opera
House in China.
21. Jerry Yang, Founder of Yahoo
Country of origin: Taiwan
World-changing idea: The most widely
read news and media website
Yang was born in Taipei in 1968, and his father died two years later. He
moved with the rest of his family to San Jose, California when he was eight
years old. Upon arriving in America, Yang knew just one word of English:
Despite the daunting disadvantages, Yang excelled in school and attended Stanford, graduating in 1990. He started Yahoo in 1995 and when he stepped down from the company, he had accumulated a net worth of $1.15 billion.
According to Rob Solomon, a venture capitalist, Yang is “a great
founder, evangelist, strategist and mentor,” having “created the
blueprint for what is possible on the Internet.”
In February 2007, Yang and his wife gave $75 million to Stanford University,
their alma mater, $50 million of which went to building the “Jerry Yang
and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building,” a multi-disciplinary
research, teaching and lab building designed with sustainable architecture
22. Charlize Theron: Actress
Country of origin: South Africa
World-changing idea: From African farm to Hollywood glamour
Theron has starred in several major Hollywood films, such as The Devil’s Advocate, The Italian Job, Hancock and Mad Max: Fury Road.
She is from an Afrikaner family, and her ancestry includes Dutch, as well as French and German; her French forebears were early Huguenot settlers in South Africa. She grew up on her parents’ farm in Benoni, near Johannesburg where her father, an alcoholic, physically attacked her mother and threatened both her and her mother while drunk; Theron’s mother shot and killed him. The shooting was legally adjudged to have been self-defense and her mother was acquitted.
At 19, Theron flew to Los Angeles, on a one-way ticket her mother bought her, intending to work in the film industry. During her early months there, she went to a Hollywood Boulevard bank to cash a check her mother had sent to help with the rent. When the teller refused to cash it, Theron engaged in a shouting match with him. On seeing this, talent agent John Crosby, in line behind her, handed her his business card and subsequently introduced her to casting agents and also an acting school. Her Hollywood career was born.
23. Albert Einstein: Genius, Inventor, Scientist, Immigrant
Country of origin: Germany
World-changing idea: The pioneer of
In February 1933 while on a visit to the United States, Einstein knew he
could not return to Germany with the rise to power of the Nazis under Germany’s
new chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Later that same year, Einstein discovered that
the new German government had passed laws barring Jews from holding any
official positions, including teaching at universities.
In the U.K. Einstein met Winston Churchill where he asked for help in
bringing Jewish scientists out of Germany. Churchill responded immediately and
sent people to Germany to seek out Jewish scientists and place them in British
universities. Churchill later observed that as a result of Germany having
driven the Jews out, they had lowered their “technical standards” and
put the Allies’ technology ahead of theirs.
Einstein became an American citizen in 1940. He expressed his appreciation
of the meritocracy in American culture when compared to Europe. He recognized
the “right of individuals to say and think what they pleased,”
without social barriers, and as a result, individuals were encouraged, he said,
to be more creative, a trait he valued from his own early education.
24. Natalie Africa, Senior Director at the U.N.
Country of origin: South Africa
World-changing idea: Nation-building
can become global building
Africa was born and raised in exile in Zambia and Zimbabwe, moving to Geneva in 1989 for a one-year internship at the World Council of Churches. Falling in love with the city’s multilateral buzz and diversity, she decided to study international relations. Her primary professor was Antony Hopkins, who had brilliant courses on British economic imperialism and colonialism in Africa – that stimulated furious class debates while also her interest in finance.
In 1995 she was recruited by South Africa’s Department of Foreign Affairs
and posted to Paris as Counsellor for Multilateral Affairs, representing South
Africa at UNESCO. She soon understood the problematic, delicate process of
nation-building in South Africa.
Africa’s career has since taken her to the UNDP, HSBC and the United Nations
Foundation. Currently, she manages private sector engagement for Every Woman
Every Child, a global multi-stakeholder movement of the UN Secretary-General
aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.
25. Gail Kelly, Former CEO of Westpac
Country of origin: South Africa
World-changing idea: The highest-paid
women in corporate Australia
Kelly became the first female CEO of a major Australian bank in 2005, which
also saw her become the highest paid woman in an Australian corporation.
In 1980, Kelly worked as a teller, but was fast-tracked into an accelerated training program at the Nedcor Bank in South Africa. In June 1997, she flew to Sydney where she held interviews with four of the major banks and was appointed to a senior position at the Commonwealth Bank in July 1997. Her performance here led her to be recruited as CEO of St. George Bank where the capitalization of the bank rose by $3 billion from the start of her term as CEO.
In October 2010, Kelly announced a target to have women occupy 40% of the top 4000 managerial positions at Westpac, a task reported by The Australian newspaper to have been almost achieved by March 2012. Kelly retired as CEO of the Westpac Group in 2015 and released her first book, Live Lead Learn: My Stories of Life and Leadership that details her experiences of being a high-profile businesswoman and mother of four.
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